Thursday, August 6, 2015

Kashmir journalists debate PJ label, approaches
SRINIGAR, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR--SRINIGAR, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR--Whenever journalists get together, a spirited discussion usually follows. This was certainly the case as I met the news team yesterday at Rising Kashmir newspaper.

The meeting was organized for me to very briefly introduce the principles of peace journalism. As it turned out, it was much less presentation and much more me answering thought-provoking questions about PJ and journalism in general. 

Editor Shujaat Bukhari opened the discussion with a question about the label peace journalism. While he encourages his reporters to take a facts-based, unbiased approach, he asked if the term peace journalism was itself inflammatory and unnecessary. Bukhari said PJ principles could be simply taught as good journalism, or, just journalism.

Bukhari’s point is well taken. As practitioners and teachers of PJ have observed and written, the word peace itself is  ironically inflammatory, stirring strong emotions and conjuring distorted images of 1960’s style long haired, pot-smoking, tree hugging hippies. In the groundbreaking 2005 book Peace Journalism, Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick admit that the term peace journalism doesn’t appeal to everyone, and indeed will be misunderstood as open advocacy for peace and an abandonment of the cherished journalistic notion of objectivity. Lynch and McGoldrick wrote that the strength of the term peace journalism lies in its ability to “galvanize, shake up, and send a seismic energy through sedimented layers of (journalistic) tradition, assumption, and definition.” 

Agreeing with the notion that the label peace journalism “shakes things up,” I asked Bukhari if I would have been invited to speak to his reporters if all I was peddling was plain vanilla “journalism?”
Setting aside the label discussion, Bukhari and I seemed to agree on the principles of balance and objectivity offered by the peace journalism approach. The reporters asked pointed questions about subjective terms like massacre and martyr. I suggested that if reporters use these words, they lose their objectivity.

Editor Shujaat Bukhari is in the center wearing
white; I'm on the left relaxing.
 One reporter asked, what if her cousin was murdered by the authorities—how should that be reported? I said that peace journalism, and indeed good journalism, asks that news reporters set aside their biases. Understandably, in this example, and indeed in everyday life in Kashmir, remaining unbiased is an especially tall order. Nonetheless, I suggested that she report her cousin’s death factually, without finger pointing, and in a way that gives balance to both accuser and accused. I acknowledged, however, that this is easy for me to say. I hope I would stick to my principles under such circumstances.

The discussion concluded with a more general discussion about the business of journalism and the transition from traditional to digital media. At Rising Kashmir, their website is becoming increasingly popular, and like their counterparts everywhere, they are seeking sustainable economic models that maximize their online revenues. 

Overall, I admire the work done by Rising Kashmir in not sensationalizing or irresponsibly reporting the news here under extremely difficult circumstances. They can certainly teach their colleagues in New Delhi a thing or two about responsible journalism.

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